Sweet and Sour Cherry Preserves

I love sour cherry season… it’s so brief and so delicious.

Chris and I went to Battleview Orchards a few days ago and picked up 6 quarts of sour cherries (about 9.75 lbs) because I had plans… sour cherry crisp, sour cherry liqueur, sour cherry extract, and sour cherry preserves. Reminds me of one of Jack Prelutsky’s poems from It’s Thanksgiving (“turkey puffs and turkey pudding, turkey patties, turkey pies, turkey bisque and turkey burgers, turkey fritters, turkey fries”) – Cary and I would recite those poems over and over at Thanksgiving time.

Anyway, it took 1 hour 15 minutes to wash, stem, and pit the cherries, then 1 hr 45 min to cook them down. It was totally worth it. I combined 2 lbs of dark sweet cherries with 5 lbs of sour cherries, it gave it a really good depth of flavor, almost a hint of warmth like cinnamon even though I didn’t add any.

Chris picked out a cherry pitter at the orchard that worked perfectly. It looks like a hypodermic but works very well and is easy to clean. It’s much easier to pit the sour cherries than the large dark cherries.

pitted

Note: Most cherry preserve recipes call for much more sugar… I don’t like to use so much sugar, I prefer to cook the preserves down for a lot longer so that the sweetness comes out naturally and the preserves get thick and gooey on their own (no added pectin). You’ll have less total output because it cooks down so much, but it tastes so much better.

7 lbs of fruit made 4.5 pints (which I split into 6 half-pint jelly jars and 6 quarter-pint jelly jars).

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs sour cherries (3 quart containers from our local orchard)
  • 2 lbs dark sweet cherries
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

Wash, stem, and pit all of the cherries.

Good tangent: Keep the pits! Use them to make extract (I’m doing that right now), just fill a quart mason jar with all of the pits, which goes about 2/3 of the way up the jar, then fill the remaining space with vodka – let it sit in a dark cool place for a month and then strain it and start using it!) – I didn’t know  this before, but cherry pits are used to make almond extract! Same flavor.

extract

Back to preserves… put the cherries in a large dutch oven (my other long time love, my cherry red Le Creuset) and crush them with a potato masher (don’t mash them to bits, just crush them so that they make it easier to break down.

start

before the crush

Add 1 cup of the sugar and all of the lemon juice and mix together. Turn on the heat to medium and cook it, stirring often. Once the sugar dissolves add another cup. Repeat this until all five cups have been added. Then you’ll have to cook it even longer… in total it took me 1 hr and 45 minutes to cook it down to about 1/3 of it’s original volume. Keep skimming off the pink foam and keep stirring with a silicone spatula/spoon.

You’ll know it’s ready when it starts to make large lava flow-like bubbles that pop and scare you with their violence (not the small fast-boil bubbles that you’ll see in the center throughout the cooking, these lava bubbles are large). If you have a candy thermometer it will be about 220 F.  Dip in a teaspoon and run your finger through it, it will be thickish and the line will stay in place. So good.

cookeddown

Not yet lava bubbles, but getting there!

While it’s all cooking (since you have 1 hr 45 minutes to stand around stirring at the stove), put another large pot on the stove filled with water, bring to a boil, and boil your jelly jars, rings and lids for 10 minutes for each batch. Put down a tea towel, put cooling racks on top, and put your clean hot jars and lids on the racks to wait for the delicious jam.

cleanjars

When the preserves are ready just use a ladle and a jar funnel and fill them. Leave about 1/2-1/4 inch of air space at the top, and close them immediately. The heat of the hot jars and hot jam should make them seal on their own (you’ll hear them pop in the hours that they sit cooling on the counter).

These preserves are delicious on bread of course, but also warmed up a bit with vanilla ice cream or on pound cake or just eaten with a spoon by the light of the fridge.  🙂  I think I’m going to make some butter cookies to make cherry jam sandwich cookies with some of these preserves.

finished

Sour cherry liqueur is up next, stay tuned!

August: Peach and tomato season!

Chica gave me 8 quarts of peaches from Battleview Orchards (yay!) so I had to make jam. I also saved about 2 quarts of them to eat fresh and later on I’ll make a peach crisp, or peach bellinis, mmmm…..

peachjamsummer13

Anyway, this time I used more sugar because giant batches of peach jam don’t work out for me (they don’t set well) unless I use more sugar. This recipe made 8 pints of jam (which I put into various size jars).

13 cups of peeled, chopped peaches (about 6 quarts before cutting up)

10 cups sugar (I know, too much, but it’s still less than the Ball Canning book calls for!)

1 packet liquid pectin (probably could have used a box of the low sugar pectin instead and a little less sugar?)

Peach jam is a labor of love. Lots of labor in fact, but worth it!

First: Prep the peaches. Cut a cross in the bottom of each whole peach. Boil whole peaches in a big pot of water for 30 seconds and then drop them into ice water, then peel them and chop.

I then mashed them with a potato masher. Toss them Into a dutch oven (at least 7.25 quarts, that’s the size of mine), and cook down over medium heat.

About 30 minutes into it I realized that with such a large batch it would be better for the peach pieces to be smaller and broken down better to allow for more uniform cooking, so I took out the handy dandy immersion blender (best invention ever) and blended them while they cooked, leaving some larger chunks for fun.

Total cooking time was about 2 hours. You have to cook it until it’s at what seems like a slow-motion rolling boil and looks like lava- large, slow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory candy-like bubbles. Then add the pectin and bring back to a lava-like rolling boil. Once you’re done and ready to fill the jars it may look runny on the spoon when hot but it’s ok.

I boiled the jars and lids and rings while I was cooking the jam (nice and sanitized). Then fill the clean jars (made 8 pints of jam, which I put into various size jars, quarter pints, half-pints, and full pints) and then process them for 10 minutes. After that I let them sit on the table until they cool (you’ll spend the evening listening to the lids pop and ping when the vacuum seal sets), and then I keep them in the fridge to set up and thicken further.

So delicious! We finished a half-pint that I had put in an old commercial jelly jar that I reuse… that’s the one I keep for the jam we’re going to eat in the next day or two.

We also have a ton of tomatoes (as you can see in the photo) that Chris and I have harvested. It’s amazing how much fruit you can get from only 4 tomato plants! The photo has only a few. The table was covered in them before we gave some away to Dad, Mom, Chica, and the nerds.

We grew grape tomatoes (and already harvested about 5 quarts of them but they have tough skin), tasti-lee hybrids (a prolofic medium round tomato, dense but decent), tye-dye yellow-red tomatoes (which are cute but not as tasty or prolific), and black krim, which are my favorite! They are ugly and purplish green, and they are delicious! Heirlooms are always the best. Next year I’m only going to grow ugly heirlooms, especially since I’ve found out that the popular seed companies that I used to use are evil and supporting the big “M”. Next year I’ll buy my plants from organic farms and nurseries in NJ!

Sour Cherry Jam

I hate when I follow a recipe against my better instincts.

The recipe in question was good except for one major point – it called for pectin when you rarely need pectin for good jam. Because I have never made sour cherry jam before I followed instructions, and the jam is waaaaayyyy too thick. Ridiculous. Otherwise it tasted good, but the cherries lose their sourness and become sweeter, which I guess is the point, but I like eating them raw!

sourcherries-bathtime

Cherries taking a bath before pitting

Chica lent me her cherry chomper… the best one-trick gadget ever, and it’s cute!

chomper

Isn’t this the best? He’s so happy I almost forgot I was pitting hundreds of cherries! 😉

Anyway, here’s the recipe, which will be good next time, without pectin!

Ingredients

2 quarts sour cherries (about 6 cups cherries)

3 cups granulated sugar

Wash and pit the cherries, smash with a potato masher, mix with sugar in dutch oven and bring to a boil for at least 20 minutes, skimming pink foam occasionally. Keep cooking it another 5-10 minutes or until it thickens. Some people use the cold dish test (put a small dish in the freezer and pour a little jam on it to see if it gels, then it’s ready), but I use the spoon test. Run your finger down the back of the spoon, if the line holds in the jam it’s ready.

Pour into jars and process in usual hot water canning method for long term storage or just put them on the counter and wait for the vacuum-seal ping sounds from the lids and then keep refrigerated and use within a few months. The jam will be much darker than the cherries when done.

cherriescooking

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…

scjars

Made 3 half-pints and 3 quarter-pints

Strawberry Kiwi Jam (with a little help from the puppy)

I read an article in the NY Times about adding one kiwi to strawberry jam for the pectin benefit and thought that since I love strawberries and kiwi, why not make the jam with more kiwi?

The flavor is excellent! There is a little tartness from the kiwi, it gels really well, and the kiwi really brings out the strawberry flavor. I used very little sugar but it’s excellent. The kiwi really makes it brighter.

Scruffy waited patiently and moved his bed into the hall so that he could watch me at the stove.

ScruffWaiting

Ingredients

2 lbs strawberries, hulled and diced

3 kiwi, peeled and diced

1.5 cups sugar

juice of 1 lemon (I happened to have meyer lemons in the house)

Directions:

Put all ingredients into enameled pot, cook for about 40-50 minutes at a rolling bubble, stirring often. Jam will thicken naturally. Pour into jars and seal.

Makes 3 half-pint jelly jars.

step1

Fruit before sugar added – the color in my photo is off… the kiwi was bright green!

step2

Bubbling away…

IMG_20130608_233655_353

finished product (before we shared it with Scruffy)

Scruffy loves strawberry kiwi jam. He kept trying to steal it as I tried to photograph it and when I gave some to Chris.  We shared with him, it’s only fair.   🙂

tastetester1 tastetestercloseup

Pickled Asparagus and Sprouting Things

Tonight I made pickled asparagus with 4 bunches of organic asparagus.

Chris and I recently went to New Hope and I found a book called Food in Jars in a local book shop. I can’t resist books with titles like that, so I picked it up, and it has great recipes. There are so many that I want to try this summer.

Since spring is here and the asparagus is starting to pour in I thought I’d make a pickled version. The author recommended using Penzey’s pickling spice, which is a mail-order company. It’s amazing. It arrived today and their herbs and spices are so fresh… they smell incredible! I can’t wait to use it again. I also ordered ground anise (so that I can bake anisette toast) and they sent us a free lemon pepper spice blend. Yum. That will be great on the fish that I plan to make more often.

Penzeys pickling spice - it smells so good! Pretty too.

Penzeys pickling spice – it smells so good! Pretty too.

As far as this recipe is concerned, next time I have to but the asparagus shorter, the tips bent over because I didn’t factor in the thickness of the slice of lemon on the bottom of the jar when I trimmed the asparagus. I also had to leave out the dried chili because I forgot to buy it. Hope it still comes out ok. I’ll know in 24 hours… I might let it sit a little longer to let it get more pickly.

waiting for spices and pickling juice

waiting for spices and pickling juice – they’re too tall!

4 bunches made 4 pint jars. Adapted from Food in Jars, by Marisa McClellan

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds asparagus, trimmed to fit your pint jars and blanched in boiling water for approximately 10 seconds
  • 3 cups vinegar (half apple cider vinegar, half white vinegar) – I only had white
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons Penzeys pickling spice
  • 1 tablespoon red hot chili flakes I forgot this
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 slices of lemon
  • 4 pint jars (it would have been better if I had the taller jars so I didn’t have to cut them short)

Directions

  1. Put a lemon slice in the bottom and pack the trimmed and blanched asparagus into the jars. Tuck a garlic clove down into the asparagus spears.
  2. Bring the vinegar, water and spices to a boil. Pour into jars on top of asparagus, leaving at least 1/2 inch of head space.
  3. Process jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes (skip this step if you plan on just putting your pickles in the fridge).
  4. Wait at least 24 hours before eating, to give the asparagus spears a chance to get sufficiently pickly.

UPDATE: These were delicious, but I would cut the amount of pickling spice. The herbs were so fresh in the pickling spice mix that they were super strong. The flavors are amazing… next time I’ll cut the spice down to 2 tsp per pint jar.

aspdone

Notice the slice of lemon in the bottom? Great idea!

To get to the sprouting things I mentioned in the title, the arugula and chard seeds are sprouting! I peeked under the greenhouse cover of my vegtrug, and there they were! Yay spring!

arugula

arugula – itty bitty sprouts!

chard

swiss chard has sprouted too!

chives

the chives are just shooting up so fast!

daffodil

A rogue daffodil… I only planted tulips!… so I thought. 🙂

tulip

The only remaining tulip with a head… Scruffy bit off all the others!

Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves and our Down East Maine vacation

Chris and I had a great time in Maine. I’m a bit sorry to be home– well, sorry to be in smelly Staten Island. If only I could move the whole family to Maine with me!
During the trip we visited Machias, wild blueberry capital of the world, for their 37th annual Blueberry Festival. It was so much fun. Click the photos to enlarge them.


The local fire department had a stand selling fried dough (Maine-speak for funnel cake). It was super hot by the stand and smelled of hot oil. Good thing the Fire Dept was in charge of it with all of that burning oil!
Remnants of my yummy baked bean dinner (I ate the biscuit before I remembered to take the photo). Chris ate a lobster roll, of course, and fish chowder. All of the food was homemade, they served it out of crock pots.  🙂  I’ve never eaten so much coleslaw in one trip. It’s pretty much the only veggie side you can get in the state other than potatoes and corn.  🙂 One other funny thing that the food stand was served in the parking lot for the local mechanic, so we ate with the faint smell of motor oil in the background. Chris didn’t like the ambiance.  😉
Center St. Congregational Church (they host the festival every year)
Festival stands – we bought some beautiful pottery from a local potter.
Ironic: the Benjamin Moore paint store across the street needs a paint job desperately!

I’d show the photo of Chris scarfing down his piece of blueberry rhubarb pie in the car (he couldn’t wait) but I think he’d get mad.  🙂

The best part was the tour of the Welch wild blueberry farm in Roque Bluffs (no relation to the grape juice, the family name is actually Hanscom, they have owned it for almost 100 years, but the original family that owned the land was Welch).

Wild blueberry field at a distance

Another view of the blueberry field… I love the colors.
Family farm home and barn… the barn is 100 years old, and unusual for it’s time as it’s built in the Western style, not the English style most common in Main during that time.

Blueberry field close-up: notice the grasses growing and how low the blueberries are

Blueberries in the field, up close (note the light blue powder coating, called bloom)

We learned so much… I never knew that wild blueberries are really low to the ground. These were only about 6-12″ high! They reproduce through their rhizomes, which run underground, so they mow or burn the entire crop down at the end of every year (alternating mowing and burning on a cycle– burning is really expensive but gets rid of pests). The blueberry plants come back from underground every year and you have berries every other year.

Burner used to torch the crops after harvest (in October) to prevent disease and pests
Lisa Hanscom (co-owner with her father, Wayne) showing blueberry rakes and antique winnowing machines. The Wooden wheel at left is used to roll and unroll the twine used to mark off rows for harvesting.

Winnowing machines and blueberry boxes

Harvesting machine (for blueberries that will be frozen)

Harvesting machine. The kid in the back loads the boxes to hold the blueberries and switches them out when full.

Blueberries that have been raked or harvested in the field, waiting to be brought in for winnowing and sorting.

They’re a very low-maintenance crop, comparatively. The farm we went to doesn’t fertilize them a lot, so they’re shorter than at other farms, but many farm blueberry fields that we passed throughout the region looked similar.
I also learned that farming blueberries is not a very profitable business… you aren’t told the price that you’ll get for your berries from the distributor until December after your harvest! That means the companies have all of the control. It’s really scary. The farm owners all work a couple of other jobs in addition to running the farm. It’s a labor of love.

Wayne Hanscom, in blue with blue baseball hat (co-owner, Lisa’s Dad). His stories were very interesting, learning how farming has changed drastically in his lifetime.

 I had a chance to harvest some of the berries myself, using the hand rake. It’s back-breaking work to be bent over like that and they work the field by hand to harvest the pie-ready berries (the best ones). The ones they sell for freezing are gathered by a harvester, which isn’t as delicate with the berries.
Once you’ve raked them you winnow them, which really comes from using the wind to sort out the berries from the leaves and grasses your rake may catch. To winnow by hand you tilt the rake down high above a box so that the wind takes the grasses and leaves and only the berries fall directly down into the boxes. Pretty cool. Now most farms use machines to winnow.
I also learned that the berries are really light blue in the field when they’re untouched. Too much touching knocks the light blue powder (called bloom) off of them and they look black instead.

Me hand-harvesting blueberries with a hand rake

Me harvesting berries (keep that comb tilted up or you lose the berries on the ground!)
Hand raked blueberries

 We also got to see how the berries are sorted by hand after picking. Even that is labor intensive, and slow, but really interesting. We bought 2 quarts of these berries, but since we had a number of days left of our trip before we were coming back to NY we ate some and put the rest in a cooler with freezer packs to keep them in tact so that I could make jam when we arrived home.

Blueberry sorting machine (dumps berries that are too light/dry before they get to the ladies who sort by hand)

The ladies that select the blueberries for fresh pack (or pie ready) sale – the rejects go to the distributor for frozen blueberry sales
The Hanscom family’s blueberry beetle!

A caterpillar on the path to the field (I wonder if he’s red because he eats blueberry plants!)

Wild blueberries are much less tart than high bush berries, and are smaller and have a milder, floral flavor and smell. They’re delicious but even better baked in a pie or cooked in jam. The jam was easy to make. 2 quarts of berries made 8 half-pints plus two tablespoons which we happily sampled (quality control is very important heeheehee).

My blueberry jam just starting to cook (still some light blue ones!). When it’s cooked it’s all dark, and smells delicious! Tastes just like blueberry pie.

Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves
Makes 8 half-pint jars
2 quarts wild Maine blueberries
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 box low-sugar Sure-Jell pectin
Wash berries and place in dutch oven on stove. Mash some of the berries with a potato masher. Then stir in sugar and lemon juice. Bring to rapid boil, stirring frequently. Add low-sugar pectin and bring to boil for a full minute, stirring constantly. Fill sterilized jars, seal, and allow to cool. Listen for caps popping (vacuum seal). If any caps do not seal then refrigerate that jar and use within a month. The other (sealed) jars can sit in a cool dark place for months before opening.

Peach Jam #3

Even though I’ve posted 2 previous trials of peach jam I am posting this one to keep track of the amounts used. Each time it gets better, with less sugar and more cooking time.
This time I made 9 half-pint jars from 25 peaches (it’s peach season and Cary took me to Battleview Orchards for my peach jam run). I bought 8 quarts of peaches and kept about 8 peaches aside to hold for pie. I’ll make that on Friday.

The pot was pretty full this time, so it took 1.5 – 2 hours of boiling to cook it down about 50%.

Early stages of cooking… tons of peaches!

Recipe:
25 peaches (9 lbs 7 oz after they were peeled and cut up)
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 packet of no-sugar pectin

Peaches were blanched and given an ice bath so I could peel them easily. I drastically cut the sugar content again. Even after 2 hours of cooking I had to add pectin to thicken it. Total prep and cooking time was 2.5 – 3 hours. Peaches are so watery when they cook that they really do need pectin unless I wanted to stand in front of the pot stirring for another 2 hours… no thank you!

It was really delicious and peachy this time, all fruit, very little goo.  🙂  Each serving of this recipe (2 tablespoons) is 59 calories and 14g of sugar. Practically health food!

UPDATE: 8 August 2012
This batch came out tangy. Chris wants it to be sweeter, so next time I’ll use more sugar. I like it, but it is more tart, almost like an apricot jam. I think a little more sugar wouldn’t go amiss.  🙂